Fundamentalism At Home And Abroad

When my daughter was asked to go to the prom by a student from a nearby Christian school there were some hoops to jump thorough, but at least they were far more tolerant than a Baptist school in Ohio:

A student at a fundamentalist Baptist school that forbids dancing, rock music, hand-holding and kissing will be suspended if he takes his girlfriend to her public high school prom, his principal said.

Despite the warning, 17-year-old Tyler Frost, who has never been to a dance before, said he plans to attend Findlay High School’s prom Saturday.

Frost, a senior at Heritage Christian School in northwest Ohio, agreed to the school’s rules when he signed a statement of cooperation at the beginning of the year, principal Tim England said.

The teen, who is scheduled to receive his diploma May 24, would be suspended from classes and receive an “incomplete” on remaining assignments, England said. Frost also would not be permitted to attend graduation but would get a diploma once he completes final exams. If Frost is involved with alcohol or sex at the prom, he will be expelled, England said.

Many liberal bloggers are opposed to the idea that the school would impose such restrictions, especially for activities outside of the school. Alan Colmes asks, “aren’t we sending young Americans to third-world countries to do battle against this kind of fundamentalism?”

Those who watched the discussion on Bill Maher last night would know that instead of fighting this kind of fundamentalism the American military is increasingly pushing their own brand of fundamentalism, leading to many in Iraq as seeing the occupation as a religious war. I’ve also noted this problem in the past, and Steve Benen raised it today in linking to a recent item at Huffington Post on the problems of evangelicalism and the military.

Reasons For Optimism For Libertarianism

Libertarian views of Barack Obama have varied widely, largely because the wide variety of people who use this label. I noted during the election that many libertarians were backing Obama, while other libertarians echo the view of him from the far right. David Boez takes a pretty optimistic view of the direction we are heading. He see a positive trend for civil liberties, and discusses issues such as legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage in depth. He concludes:

The “shift to the left” that we seem to observe on economic policy is depressing to libertarians. But that’s mostly crisis-driven. When the results of more spending, more taxes, more regulation, and more money creation begin to be visible, we may see the kind of reaction that led to Proposition 13 and the election of Ronald Reagan at the end of the 1970s. Meanwhile, this cultural “shift to the left” is far more encouraging. And don’t forget, at 90 days into the Obama administration, Americans preferred smaller government to “more active government” by 66 to 25 percent.

Boez is also taking a far more realistic viewpoint than is coming from many economic conservatives in realizing that current economic policy is in response to a crisis and does not reflect the overall direction the country is heading in. On the other hand, the crisis has ensured that opposing all regulation will not be taken very seriously as it was during the Reagan years. We now even have supporters of the Chicago School such as Richard Posner (author of Capitalism in Crisis) arguing that deregulation of the banking industry went too far.

The apparent contradiction between supporting smaller government and supporting the actions of the Obama administration has other possible explanations beyond response to a crisis. This is partially due to the difference between small government and limited government. When many libertarians and conservatives talk of small government they are literally talking of the size of government. They are looking at how much money the government spends, how many people it employees, how many rules are on the books, and how many government agencies we have.

For many other people the important issue is not the actual size but how government impacts upon their lives. To many voters a liberal version of limited government is far preferable to conservative small government which is more intrusive in our lives. Many people do not see a government, regardless of size, which restricts civil liberties, interferes with reproductive rights, criminalizes marijuana, intervenes in marriage decisions, intervenes in end of life decisions, and embraces the social policies of the religious right as being small at all.

Even when considering the types of issues conservatives are more likely to consider when speaking of small government, the views of many voters are not entirely clear. People will say in general they want small government, but are also unwilling to give up many of the services provided by government. Most voters do not want to give up Medicare or Social Security and most voters recognize a need for changes in our health care system, even if it results in higher taxes.

Some of the statements of support for small government come from listening to the rhetoric of the right. We constantly hear that there are government programs which spend lots of money, employ lots of people, and do nothing for us in return. Naturally everyone will agree that we should get rid of such government programs. Now we just have to find them. While there is certainly some waste which can be eliminated, it is doubtful that any truly wasteful programs which can be identified will amount to a very large percentage of the actual size of government.

Libertarians need to decide what really matters. If the actual number of government employees and government agencies is the key issue in their lives they are not going to be happy with the direction the country is going in. However, if they look at the fundamental questions of whether people are becoming more or less free in running their own lives, and free from interference from government, then Boez is right that there are real reasons for optimism.

Getting At The Truth, Regardless of Party

There’s been considerable question lately as to how much Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats knew about waterboarding. ABC uncritically repeated claims that she was informed while others such as Greg Sargent have shown that this is not entirely clear. The CIA has conceded that the documents cited might not be accurate, while my Congressman, Pete Hoekstra, claims to have the goods on Pelosi. (Hoekstra might or might not be right on this one, but as far as I’m concerned Hoekstra’s credibility has been zilch since he tried to pass off bogus claims of finding WMD in Ira)q.  Marc Ambinder has further background on this controversy.

Many conservative bloggers have once again turned a search for truth into a partisan battle, misrepresenting the situation as Democrats and their supporters being more concerned with covering their asses. The Republicans are holding a pretty weak hand when their defense to committing war crimes comes down to claims that some Democratic leaders also knew about their crimes.

Meanwhile many liberal bloggers are taking a more reality-based approach, as has been the case throughout the post 9/11 era. Liberal bloggers such as Josh Marshall have no qualms about questioning whether Democratic leaders knew what was going on.

While we do not know all the specifics yet, it looks pretty clear that 1) the Bush years were ones of wanton criminality in the highest levels of government and 2) the Democrats did not do enough as an opposition party to try to oppose their actions. Beyond this it is far from clear as to how much Pelosi or other Democrats knew about specifics such as waterboarding. Any investigations should address failings on the parts of members of both political parties.

Congress should certainly investigate what occurred as this is one of its functions, but the questions raised about Pelosi do show that we might not be able to count on Congress to investigate fully. Any investigation as to what went wrong in these dark years of our history should include why our two-party system failed us at a  time when we needed an opposition party to do whatever was possible to block and expose criminal acts.

Besides any investigations initiated by Congress, a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate crimes committed by the Bush administration. As many of the problems, including possible inaction by the Democratic leaders, might be worthy of  exposure but do not constitute criminal acts, perhaps some sort of independent truth commission is also needed. As occurred during the Watergate era, it is also possible that some of the truth might come out from investigative journalists. Unfortunately journalism today is weaker and we do not have the smoking gun of incriminating tapes in the White House. It is possible that some former members of the Bush administration will talk and act as a modern day Deep Throats.